Vipers ready for finals with Vees

Round 1 surprise playoff hero Brendan Persley doesn’t totally discount the regular season. But he’s built more for the playoffs.

Round 1 surprise playoff hero Brendan Persley doesn’t totally discount the regular season. But he’s built more for the playoffs and can’t wait for the Penticton Vees tonight at the South Okanagan Events Centre.

Persley, who some fans figured wasn’t good enough to make the Vernon Vipers in their Royal Bank Cup season, is the B.C. Hockey League playoff’s prime pointgetter with four goals and 10 points. He had six goals going into the post-season.

This will be the sixth time the Snakes and Vees have met in the Fred Page Cup playoffs since 2005. They last met in the 2010 Interior Conference final, which the Vipers took in six games.

Persley scored twice and drew one assist as the Vipers shut down the West Kelowna Warriors 5-0 before 1,100 fans Tuesday night at Kal Tire Place.

Vernon won the best-of-seven series 4-2. He was on a veteran line with Colton Sparrow and Brett Mulcahy.

“You work to get to the post-season and when you get there, the big players gotta show up,” said Persley, 20. “When our goal scorers aren’t putting up as much points, some other guys have to fill in and I think we did a good job doing that.”

Persley was inserted on a veteran line with Colton Sparrow, 20, and Brett Mulcahy, 21, for the first-round series. They accounted for 10 goals and 22 points.

“He (coach Jason Williamson) put us together to shut down the other team’s top line,” said Persley, like Mulcahy, a Kelowna product. “We went out there trying to do that and we just starting clicking. In the first game, we kind of got lit up on the powerplay and then we just decided to bear down. We kind of worked off each other and put the puck in the net and it was nice to see.”

Game 2 in the Interior championship series goes Saturday in Penticton. Vernon hosts the third and fourth games Monday and Tuesday nights.

“They’ve got a lot of talent up front and some big defencemen that we’ve just gotta work down low,” said Persley, of the speedy Vees. “It’s gonna be a tough series. The team that works hardest is definitely gonna win that series.”

The hard-hitting Persley won over Williamson and staff by hiring a personal trainer last summer and showing up at camp a step quicker and much fitter.

“He’s a guy we knew, at this time of year, would be huge,” said Williamson. “He’s a heart and soul guy, he does all the little details, he’s a Viper through and through. He’s agitating to play against, he blocks shots and he’s chipped in offensively. We were going to use them as a shutdown line, but in the end, the other team has to shut them down too.”

The first-place Vees (36-16-2-4) won the season series 4-3 but lost the last two meetings. Vernon finished third at 30-18-4-6.

“It’s going to be a grind. It’s going to be a good series,” said Vees’ d-man Paul Stoykewych, who supplied 3+1 in round 1. “They’re a big, strong physical team. We compete well against them. They compete well against us. It’s a good rivalry. It should be fun.”

Vees’ head coach Fred Harbinson scouted the Warriors-Vipers games in West Kelowna and is excited about the matchup.

“You get to play against the Royal Bank Cup host team. Obviously a great rivarly between the two cities. It’s a great challenge getting to play against a team that’s been built over the last two years for this year. It’s exciting to have them here on Friday night. It’s two storied franchises in our league, in Junior hockey in Canada. It makes for a great story line.”

Said Williamson on the Vees: “That’s a very good team, very well coached. Really high offence and some good goaltending. It’s gonna be a grind, but I think our group’s up to the challenge. The way we’ve played as of late, even going into the playoffs, I thought we’ve got as good a chance as anbody.”

A story line which may develop is which team does a better job staying out of the penalty box.

“I think it really paid off for us in the first round. We only gave our opposition 10 power-plays,” said Harbinson. “Vernon probably looks at their first round, when they had success, they stayed out of the box.”

The other Division final series see the Victoria Grizzles facing the Powell River Kings and the Langley Rivermen going up against the Coquitlam Express. The three Division champions will play a new double round-robin format to decide the Fred Page finalists.

Mulcahy registered his eighth goal of the playoffs midway through the first period as the Vipers dispatched the injury-riddled Warriors. Colton Sparrow and Persley earned assists on the bang-bang play in front of rookie 16-year-old goalie Cody Porter.

Persley converted from Michael McNicholas just seconds after Michael Statchuk served a minor penalty for high sticking. McNicholas forced a turnover behind the Warriors’ net. TJ Dumonceaux made it 3-0 five minutes later, scooping a rebound into an empty net after Porter denied Demico Hannoun on a partial breakaway. Logan Mick got the secondary assist.

Liam Coughlin, with 6:21 left in the game, connected from Jared Wilson and Mason Blacklock, burying a shot from the left hash marks. Persley connected with 2:31 to play, on a power play. Sparrow and captain Ryan Renz pocketed assists.

Warriors’ leading scorer Seb Lloyd returned from injury reserve after taking a knee from Dallas Calvin in Game 2 and had a few good scoring chances. Austin Smith was stellar early and finished with 29 saves for the shutout.

“He (head coach Rylan Ferster) congratulated us on a good regular season and how we competed in the playoffs was pretty unfortunate, losing all the bodies and still going out and battling every night and making it a series,” said Lloyd. “Now, it’s time to look back on the season and remember the good times. No point saying ‘What ifs’ now. I think everyone in this room gave 100 per cent and battled through injuries and did everything they can to try and have a winning playoff record and get on to that next round.”

Ferster, a former Vernon Laker, gave props to the Vipers and wished them luck moving forward.

“I told our team we had a pretty good season; we made a couple of strides here, to finish tied for first. You have to look back at the positives. The worst day is tomorrow when all this is over and you don’t have to prepare which I’m all about. That’s difficult, but we’ve gotta keep our heads high here…Injuries kind of caught up with us eventually. We tried to Band-Aid as much as we could, but we’re not going to make any excuses. We’ll move forward and hopefully get better.”

While the Warriors used a patchwork lineup from Game 3 on, the Vipers rallied to win their first playoff series in three years.

Said Williamson: “I thought it was gutsy effort by a group that  hadn’t had a lot of experience as a team in the playoffs so I’m super proud of them right now. Even with the injuries they had, they’re still a heck of a hockey team. We’ve got some experience now. Now we just have to build off that for what’s going to be a real tough series.”

SNAKE BITES: Hannoun and Blacklock join D Brett Beauvais, F Jack Ramsey and G Hunter Miska of the Vees as players ranked in the NHL Central Scouting mid-term list. Vipers’ F Liam Coughlin will likely be in the final rankings…Harvey Smyl, who turns 52 today, has resigned after 21 years as head coach with the Chilliwack Chiefs…Victoria erased a 4-1 third-period deficit and clipped Alberni Valley Bulldogs 5-4 in double overtime Wednesday night before 1,154 fans at the Q Centre, to win that series in seven.